George Washington was not a great soldier. His great contributions were always more political than military. Washington’s undistinguished military career began at this small fort in western Pennsylvania. On July 3, 1754, 22-year old Colonel George Washington was forced to surrender the fort and the colonial troops under his command to French forces from nearby Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburg). The surrender, although probably inevitable, was certainly hastened by the fact that Washington had built the stockade in a very poor location, close to covering forests and exposed to fire from nearby heights. This action was the opening battle of the French and Indian War, the struggle between Great Britain and France for control of North America. Washington went on to advise British General Braddock prior to his disastrous defeat near Fort Duquesne, and to a Revolutionary War career in which his only major victory, at Yorktown, was due more to his French allies than to his own troops, who were a minority of the forces besieging British General Cornwallis.
Click here for a map showing the location of Fort Necessity.
Route 66, the “Mother Road” of American car culture, ran from Chicago to California. There is probably no state where the “Mother Road” was more important than Oklahoma, not only because it was the major east-west thoroughfare in the state, but also because it was the route of the great dust-bowl Okie migration, which changed the history of two states and the entire country. The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum has collected signs, artifacts, and memorabilia of the road into a comprehensive exhibition of its history and culture.
Click here for a map of the Route 66 Museum and surrounding area.
Fort Frederick is a rare example of a classic eighteenth century fortification design on the American frontier. Most American frontier forts were little more than wooden stockades, and their design paid minimal attention to the elaborate engineering that was used to provide adequate covering fire in European forts. Fort Frederick was built with stone walls and carefully designed bastions for covering fire. (Walk around the fort and see for yourself how every spot along the wall is well covered from multiple angles.) The fort provided defense on Maryland’s frontier during the last French and Indian War (1754-1763). As late as the Civil War, it served as a camp for Confederate prisoners of war. The Fort’s stone wall and two barracks have been restored to their 1758 appearance. The site features excellent historic displays, and hosts several fine reenactment events during the year.
Click here for map of Fort Frederick and surrounding areas.
Official Web Page
Long before Baltimore had the Inner Harbor, there was Fort McHenry, the original “Star Spangled Banner” place. Now, we’ve never been fans of the national anthem (it’s only singable at baseball games, where the beer certainly helps), but Fort McHenry is an interesting and scenic place. The fort, designed in the classic star shape of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, was built to guard Baltimore’s harbor. Francis Scott Key’s poem, later set to music, records a spectacular assault on Fort McHenry by the British navy on September 13-14, 1814. The fort held, thwarting the British attempt to seize the port of Baltimore. Fort McHenry never again came under attack, but it remained an active military post off and on for the next 100 years.
Click here to view a location map of Fort McHenry and surrounding areas.
New Glarus is one of those rare towns that have preserved a distinct historical character over a long period of time. In the case of New Glarus, that continuity may well be due to the fact that the town can trace its history directly back to the “old country.” The town of New Glarus was, in fact, founded in 1845 by immigrants from the original Glarus in Switzerland. Their immigration to the United States was prompted by a severe economic crisis in their highly industrialized Swiss canton. The immigrant party sent scouts ahead to locate suitable land, and they purchased 1,200 acres of land in the Little Sugar River Valley of Wisconsin. On August 15, 1845, 108 members of the original party arrived in New Glarus. The settlers built successful agricultural and cheese-making enterprises, and as the town prospered immigrants continued to arrive from Switzerland. As a result, cultural ties with Switzerland have been preserved, and you can hear the Swiss language on the streets of the town to this day. At New Glarus restaurants, you can dine on the fine Swiss cuisine, which features Schnitzel, Geschnetzelets, Swiss meatballs, and Roesti potatoes. The New Glarus skyline displays Swiss styles of architecture. In addition to enjoying the historical atmosphere of New Glarus, the town has two museums of special interest to historical travelers: the Swiss Historical Village and the Chalet of the Golden Fleece. The Swiss Historical Village, a replica pioneer village, is a 14-building complex displaying the history, artifacts, and wares of New Glarus’ early businesses and settlers. The Hall of History at the museum documents the immigration of New Glarus’ first settlers from Switzerland. The Chalet of the Golden Fleece houses the private collection gathered from around the world by Edwin Barlow, a local resident and founder of the Wilhelm Tell drama (a play about the Swiss hero performed annually in conjunction with the town’s Alpine Festival) in New Glarus. Barlow donated his home and collection to the village of New Glarus. Both museums provide daily tours by guides who are well versed in the cultural history of New Glarus. We recommend that you plan ahead so that you can take your time and enjoy everything that New Glarus has to offer.
Click here for location map for New Glarus, Wisconsin
A fine state park links a number of important sites around the Straits of Mackinac at the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The feature sites are Colonial Michilimackinac, with a fine reconstruction of an eighteenth century French (later British) fort. The fort encloses 18 authentically reconstructed buildings on their original sites, and professional archaeologists are often at work on the site. (In my experience, the archaeologists and their student assistants are quite friendly and eager to answer questions and discuss their work.) Historic Mill Creek recreates one of the first industrial sites on the Great Lakes, a water-powered sawmill for mechanized timber cutting, dating to the early nineteenth century. Fort Mackinac, on nearby Mackinac Island, was an important post during the War of 1812. All this is set in a spectacular setting which includes the Mackinac Bridge, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and last but not least, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Cross the Mackinac Bridge to explore the sites of historic Ignace, the oldest settlement in Michigan.
The only home Abraham Lincoln ever owned was a two-story house in Springfield, Illinois. The house was constructed in 1839 as a one-story cottage. The Lincolns added the second story during their residence there from 1844 until Mr. Lincoln’s election to the Presidency in 1861. The home, which has been restored to its 1860s appearance, stands in the midst of a four-block historic neighborhood. The National Park Service is currently restoring the neighborhood, so that it will also appear much as did in Lincoln’s time.
Address: 413 S 8th St, Springfield, IL
Phone: (217) 492-4241
Web Address: http://www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm
Click here for a map showing the location of the Lincoln Home.
George Washington was not a great soldier. As a young man, the French forced him into a humiliating surrender after he built a stockade at an indefensible position in a Pennsylvania meadow. His advice to British General Braddock contributed to the disastrous defeat by the French and Indians near Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh). In the Revolutionary War, he had a bad habit of allowing his army to be outflanked. America’s French allies outnumbered his own troops at his one great victory, the siege of Yorktown. Washington’s great contribution to the country was not military but political: he set a precedent for the United States that still sets us apart from much of the world by peacefully and voluntarily relinquishing executive authority within a constitutional order. It is appropriate, then, that his most important memorial be the working plantation for which he yearned throughout his public service, and to which he returned after retiring from the presidency, Mount Vernon. The private Mount Vernon Association preserves George Washington’s plantation near Washington, D.C. Mount Vernon was the home of Washington and his wife, the former Martha Custis, for over 45 years. (Much of the time, of course, he was away on campaign or serving in office.) Washington inherited the property, which had been in his family since 1674, at the death of his brother’s widow in 1761. The home has been restored to its appearance in 1799, the year of Washington’s death. In recent years, archaeologist have been busy excavating near the mansion, at the communal slave quarters, the grist mill and other sites that were important parts of Washington’s working plantation.
Address: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA 22309
Click here for a map of Historic Mount Vernon and surrounding areas.
The Fort is a full-scale, on-site reconstruction of the 1758-1766 original, situated on a commanding hilltop in the Laurel Highlands. Numerous living history events and other activities are held throughout the season, which runs from April 1 to October 31. The annual Fort Ligonier Days each October are a whale of a good party, but not the best occasion for historical touring of the site. The fort reconstruction is quite convincing. The Visitor Center has a fine set of exhibits and a remarkably good bookstore (much better than in some larger and more prominent sites).
216 S Market St, Ligonier, PA 15658
web site http://fortligonier.org/
Click here for a map of Fort Ligonier and surrounding area.
The small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was the site of what is still the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere. While the battlefield is unfortunately marred on some sides by encroaching development, more than enough is preserved for a visitor to understand the terrain and the geography of the battle. The Visitor Center has fine exhibits and a good bookstore. Catch the electronic map presentation on the battle to orient yourself before touring the site. (The map is very low tech by current standards, but was something of a marvel to this kid in the ’60s. It’s still surprisingly effective as an instructional device.) By all means take the well-marked auto tour, and use the towers to get the perspective that the combatants could not have had. But try to get off the roads, traipse the fields that Pickett crossed, climb the side of Little Round Top, and walk along the remains of the trenches on Culp’s Hill. There are excellent guides who will drive, bike, or hike the battlefields with you. For a special treat, take one of several riding tours offered by private guides to get a general’s eye view of the battlefield. Also take a walk across the road from the Visitor Center to the Gettysburg National Cemetery and the site of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in the Evergreen Cemetery beyond (ask the park rangers for the location).